By Pastor Kevin
There is a tendency for us to believe that we are always in the right. We are always God’s chosen people. As for those other guys, they are evil. They are Satanic or unchristian. We are definitely not like them. In the contemporary American church, the issue is often framed so that it is liberal vs. conservative, or Democrat vs. Republican, or American vs. foreigner, or Judaeo-Christian vs. Muslim. I could go on and on. We, as human beings, have a tendency to be tribal. We have a tendency to distrust those who we place on the margins. We consider them unclean, different, or simply against everything that we stand for.
The Jewish community, in the first century, also had these problems. They were divided into Pharisees and Sadducees, ethnically Jewish and Gentile, etc. They had prejudices and biases that contributed to a lack of love and justice within the land. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, however, challenges these prejudices.
First of all, Jesus commands us simply and plainly to love all people:
“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ [Deut. 6:4,5]. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ [Lev. 19:18]. There is no commandment greater than these’ (Mark 12:28-31; cf. Matthew 22:34-40, Luke 10:25-28).
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ [Lev. 19:18]. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48; cf. Luke 6:27-36).
The earliest followers of Jesus held to this teaching, and most books of the New Testament restate the same message in one way or another. The moral standard Christians should strive for is one of love.
Jesus’ commandment to love manifests in some strange and pretty offensive ways too. In the gospels, we learn that an essential part of Jesus’ ministry was associating with tax collectors and sinners. We fail to realize today just how scandalous this was, especially regarding tax collectors. The area in which Jesus lived had recently been taken over by a foreign occupying military, the Roman Empire. The tax collectors were agents of the enemy. Jesus, however, loved them, and he served and dined with them. He called them to be his disciples. Jesus loved the unlovable, and he manifested that love in every part of his ministry.
The parable of the good Samaritan is another good example:
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).
Samaritans were the enemy. They were the sister religion to Judaism that emerged from the northern kingdom (Israel) in contrast to that of the southern kingdom (Judah). They were traitors and heretics, and yet, it is the Samaritan who is the loving man of God, and the Jewish leaders had gone astray.
This parable is deeply relevant to us today. We live in a world of religious and partisan divisions, and God gives us this parable to challenge our prejudices. This could easily be the parable of the good Muslim, or the parable of the good Democrat or Republican, or the parable of the good Catholic, and so on. Whatever walls and prejudices we set up for ourselves, this parable is there to challenge us.
Hear the words of the Apostle Paul, who himself preached a message of radical inclusion to the Gentiles:
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-28).
Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all (Colossians 3:11).
He who has ears to hear, let him hear! May we go and do likewise. May we follow Jesus and his apostles and be loving towards all, even with those who we dislike.